By John F. Di Leo
Maybe someone else remembers a midterm election like this one, Gentle Reader, but I sure don’t. We expected a red wave, and we were told we didn’t get one, but then, as the dust settled, day by day, this turns out to have been an unusually mixed election.
Writing from here in Illinois, of course, we were blindsided, though perhaps we shouldn’t have been. Illinois had no bright spots at all, losing all the statewide races, state supreme court races, even all the competitive US House seats. Why? How? Well, even if there’s a national trend and you spend tens of millions of dollars campaigning, it still matters how you campaign, and how you spend those millions. JB Pritzker’s inherited millions buried Illinois Republicans, and combined with truly shocking gerrymandering to run the table on Tuesday.
But outside Illinois, there were wonders worth appreciating, and pondering. Since Florida cleaned up its election processes to minimize vote fraud, it has become more than competitive, and Governor Ron DeSantis led a massive landslide for the Republican Party at every level from the state house to US Senate. The rest of the country needs to pay attention and learn from Florida.
There were other bright spots too. Iowa ejected its last liberal congressman; the state now boasts an all-Republican Congressional delegation, both at the House and Senate levels. Wisconsin flipped a rural northwest congressional seat, so its Congressional delegation is all Republican except for two house districts (Madison and Milwaukee) and one US Senator. Similarly, flipping multiple Democrat-held seats in California, Oregon, Arizona and Texas – even New York – to the GOP provided the bulk of the numbers that will give the Republicans a House majority for the next two years. These are real accomplishments, some of them shocking in their impact.
A full analysis of an election like this takes time, data, and deep thought. We cannot learn all its lessons in a week. But gradually, some important points are becoming evident.
The Top of the Ticket Matters
In a presidential election year, this goes without saying. In a midterm, sometimes it’s a governor, sometimes a senator, sometimes both. We have heard a lot about “candidate quality” in recent days, some of it on target, some of it just disguised bias. But one thing is clear: that “candidate quality” issue applies to coattails, and can determine the fortunes of every lesser office in the state.
Look at New York, even though Lee Zeldin didn’t manage to win the governorship, his charismatic and tireless campaigning alongside his party’s slate helped carry several congressional candidates across the finish line. Now, that’s candidate quality.
With great candidates at the top, the rank and file show up to vote, and everyone down ballot benefits. Without great candidates at the top, voter enthusiasm fades, and many of the rank and file don’t show up at all, leaving everyone down ballot to suffer as a result.
Ron DeSantis, Lee Zeldin, and a few other statewide candidates did yeoman’s work this year in championing the rest of their teams down ballot. We need more of that.
Party Identification Matters.
For many years, it has been customary for candidates of both parties to leave their party off their flyers, their mailings, their yard signs. While it’s understandable on first blush, this choice has an inherent problem at its core: When it would be most helpful to paint the opposition with a broad brush, we don’t do it.
For example: does anyone know a state where government waste and corruption are more eternally tied to Democrats than in Illinois? All Illinoisans know the problems caused by the Democrats – the rampant crime, the fleeing businesses, the skyrocketing cost of living, the unbearable taxes, and of course a lifetime of news stories reporting Democrat leaders being arrested, convicted, and imprisoned for ever more shocking crimes.
But does the Right in Illinois ever produce ads or billboards featuring Mike Madigan, Ed Burke, Tom Cullerton, Emil Jones, and many others – making the simple but effective point, “one or two bad eggs may be an exception; this many is a real problem. Stop voting Democrat. Vote Republican, for honest government!”
No, the Illinois Republicans don’t do such advertising.
In fact, the Illinois Republican Party is known for forcing every candidate to run on their own, as individuals. If the party has a million dollars, they split it up, writing separate checks to individual campaigns. What Illinois Republican candidates have always needed most is a unified campaign against Democrats – generic negative ads against the entire Democratic Party roster, supported by positive ads supporting the entire generic Republican slate. But it’s never done. And few individual candidates can compete, one by one, in a state like Illinois, with so much of the apparatus structurally tilted in support of the Democrats.
Remember Ted Sorenson’s famous line: a rising tide lifts all boats. Nowhere in politics is there a more useful truism. Hundreds of individual state and federal legislators don’t need their own mailings anywhere near as much as the team needs to remind the voters of the inherent vices of the Democrat brand. Raise awareness of the destruction caused by the entire Democratic brand, and the odds of success for every individual Republican are bound to increase.
Many of us still remember the wonderful party identification ads of 1980, driving home the message that the Democratic Party, as a group, is no longer a match for working Americans – particularly the wonderful, hard-hitting national commercials produced by Terry Dolan at NCPAC in those days. That method worked so well, Ronald Reagan won in a landslide, and twelve US Senate seats were flipped in one night.
So naturally, we haven’t done it since.
If a Tree Falls in a Forest, and There’s Nobody There to Hear It…
In the fall of 1994, U.S. Rep. Newt Gingrich (R-GA ) and his caucus issued a Contract with America. It was too late to help some districts, but it did get press coverage, and helped win the House of Representatives for the Republican Party. The Contract was a part of that critical midterm success.
In 2022, U.S. Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) attempted the same thing, announcing such a plan back in the spring, but he too waited too long, and then even that late date was postponed further by the death of Elizabeth II of England, its eventual news coverage buried deeper than the Queen. As a result, whatever benefits such an attempted nationalization of the House election might have brought were minimized. Most Americans today probably have no idea that the Commitment to America was ever even issued.
Candidates create their websites, write their advertising, and design their media campaigns, months in advance. And the less money a candidate has, the less of a chance there is to add late-appearing issues to his plan, however beneficial they might be. Releasing the Commitment to America in late September – just six weeks before Election Day, when some states had already started voted, was yet another opportunity missed in 2022.
The Big Lie Still Works
For seventy years, we have asked, how did the Nazis manage to do what they did, to so severely demonize whole groups of innocent people that they could eventually confiscate their property, incarcerate them, even murder them, without much of the public rising in opposition? We are told that it was “The Big Lie,” a tactic of declaring a foundational falsehood so often, building it into education, political messaging, and pop culture until it’s absorbed by much of a gullible population. We find it hard to believe, but the evidence that it worked is before our eyes.
Similarly, today’s Democrats use that approach – the constant drumbeat of what the Right would consider a ludicrous premise, infused in every aspect of life, reinforced by book and screen, by politician and reporter, day and night, night and day. And it works, right here in the United States.
There has been knowledge of widespread vote fraud in big cities with Democratic machines for 150 years. Nobody ever denied its existence; they just said “there isn’t enough vote fraud to make a difference, so it’s not worth worrying about.” But all of a sudden, after the election of 2020, when Republicans couldn’t miss the 2:00 am spikes, the obvious stacks of photocopies, the disregard for chain of custody, the ballot harvesting, the Democrats had to change their tac.
Democrats now needed to convince the public that elections are pure, and they created the moniker of “Election Denier!” for anyone who questioned the results in 2020. Day after day they held January 6 hearings and charged that anyone who sought improvements in ballot integrity must be a traitor, “an Enemy of Democracy.” Insane perhaps, but this constant drumbeat worked. It stuck, and this ridiculous charge caused the losses of countless Republican races on Nov. 8.
After expectations of a new ice age fizzled in the 1970s, a new idea – manmade global warming – surfaced in the 1980s, as a new environmentalist tool for attacking the free market. Based entirely on a crackpot theory – that carbon dioxide will soon cause the earth’s temperature to skyrocket – is the core justification for almost all modern leftist policy. Groundless on its face, the left has built the theory into children’s schoolbooks, workplace vendor selection, charitable programming, corporate advertising, and pop culture sermonizing. Generations have now been raised taking this climate cult for gospel. The university emails, the corrupt professors, the twisted research in support of the theory were long ago exposed and discredited, but it doesn’t matter; it’s become a religion now. And campaigning against a religion isn’t easy.
Perhaps the most amazing of the Left’s big lies is the claim that Republican candidates are the extremists on abortion. Today’s official Democrat Party position is to champion unrestricted taxpayer-funded abortion throughout the nine months of pregnancy, right up to and even just after the moment of birth. Republicans, on the other hand, want there to be far fewer abortions, and to implement whatever reasonable restrictions the public in each state will support: Banning it perhaps in the third trimester? Or maybe banning it in the second? Perhaps allowing it but preventing public funds from being used on it? Perhaps allowing it but at least requiring parental notification when the expectant mother is under age?
Clearly, the Democrats are the extremists on this issue; so what do they do? They call Republicans the extremists, loudly and constantly. Even moderate pro-lifers (whom most pro-lifers would call pro-choice) were identified as anti-abortion extremists. How many even moderately pro-choice Republicans were defeated this month, especially at the state level, under the outrageous charge of extremism. They are literally redefining words before our very eyes.
How does an honest political party compete with such unrelenting emphasis on a few massive but important lies? “Election Denier!” “Planet Killer!” “Abortion Extremist!”
These are the charges that brought down many fine Republicans this year. If the party is going to succeed in 2024 and beyond, some strategy must be found to fight the Big Lies of the modern Left.
Election Machinery Matters
Every state conducts their elections a bit differently; the Constitution itself respects the right of the states to do these things their own way.
The federal government has relatively little say in how elections are conducted. States must not require a higher minimum voting age than 18, for example, and must limit suffrage to American citizens in federal elections. States must work with the military to furnish absentee ballots early enough for servicemen serving abroad to receive, vote, and return their ballots in time. And the state legislatures are to determine the process and manner of the election apparatus itself.
In recent years, the explosion of such techniques as early voting (expanding election day into a four to eight week period) and automatic, no-request mail-in balloting (a corruption of the concept of absentee ballots that removes most safeguards) have caused a complete upheaval in the way we conduct campaigns. And in many cases, these changes are illegal, as they have been done on the whim of governors or secretaries of state, in direct contradiction to the laws passed by their state legislatures.
Republicans don’t trust mail-in ballots – and understandably so – while Democrats now use them as the fundamental part of their Get Out The Vote (GOTV) effort. Republicans vote on Election Day, limiting their GOTV push to a single day. This difference in approach gives the Democrats an incredible advantage, banking hundreds of thousands of votes long before election day. Republicans are already almost doomed, even if there weren’t vote fraud.
But there is vote fraud. We don’t know how much; because of the secret ballot, the actual amount is unknowable. But there are dozens of different ways to commit election fraud, both small scale and large scale. While we don’t know for sure how much goes on, with so many elections decided by less than a percentage point, it’s inconceivable that fraud wouldn’t have made the difference in some if not many contests.
Illegal aliens and non-citizen green card holders are registered by Motor Voter and some, at least, do vote. Paying people to vote, with cash, food, drink or equivalents, is illegal, but it happens all the time in numerous big cities. People with multiple addresses, such as college students and families with second homes, are limited to voting only from one of their addresses, but we know that many vote from both. Nursing homes full of weak and often barely conscious wards are ripe for vote farming, and we know from numerous convictions that it happens all over.
And all this is before we consider the innumerable opportunities for fraud presented by a flood of mail-in ballots that have no chain of custody, and computerized voting systems that could be programmed from across the world.
We should return to a single Election Day, but that may not be in the cards. Still, there is a host of other available security measures we could put in place. Demanding a real drivers’ license as ID, ending the unmanned drop boxes, forbidding ballot harvesting, banning the use of nursing homes as polling places. And most importantly, increasing both prosecution and sentencing for all versions of the crime of vote fraud. Until we do, the problem can only get worse.
There is a saying: tax a thing, you’ll get less of it; subsidize a thing, you’ll get more of it. By the same token, as long as we reward candidates, parties, and activist groups who commit vote fraud by allowing them to “win” races, the problem of vote fraud can only grow. But where we control it, by removing the opportunities for theft and punishing the criminals when caught, like Florida has, then the problem of vote fraud can be reduced, even minimized.
Every decade, the census gives each state government the opportunity to redraw the maps for county, state and federal legislative districts, and sometimes other races, as well.
Control of the governor’s mansion, or of one or two bodies of the legislature, is imperative to protect a party from such outrageous gerrymandering as occurred in Illinois in 2022. Illinois Republicans, for example, lost two races for state supreme court, arguably completely because of how these districts were drawn. Would a fairer map have enabled Republican congressional pickups? Perhaps. It would certainly have enabled a healthier balance in the state legislature.
Elections matter every year, of course. Every election matters. Every race matters.
But the state elections toward the end of a decade – the governor’s race in the year ending in “8” or “9,” and the legislative races in the years ending in “8,” “9,” and “0” – are the most important of all, because these are the officeholders who will spend the year ending in “1” playing cartographer. The entire following decade is overwhelmingly determined in those elections.
We Are Always Learning
There are more lessons to be learned from the midterms of 2022, lessons to be revealed in the months and years to come.
Will we learn them?
We have to.
Copyright 2022 John F. Di Leo